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Grades of Green students, left to right, Sienna Agnes, Lila Murphy, Penn Clay and Carter Clay with Dana Murray, Manhattan Beach environmental programs manager and Allie Bussjaeger, Grades of Green instructor.

The days of sipping through plastic straws in Manhattan Beach will soon be over as the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move ahead with a sweeping ban on plastics.

The new law would ban all plastic straws, utensils and stirrers at city bars and restaurants with certain hardship exemptions. It would also require those establishments provide alternative straws and utensils only on request. 

More than 18 California cities have adopted similar laws including Santa Monica, Malibu and San Francisco, and more than 115 California cities have laws regulating polystyrene, according to Surfrider Foundation.

Council directed staff to draft the ordinance, which likely will take effect in January. In doing so, the city would again put itself at the forefront of legislation regulating single-use plastic items.

In 2008, the city passed one of the first city-wide bans on plastic bags, well before other cities and eventually the state adopted similar prohibitions. The city then successfully defended the law all the way to the state Supreme Court in 2011.

Manhattan Beach passed a prohibition on polystyrene cups, lids and straws in 2013 and updated the law in 2014 to include polystyrene ice chests.

In addition to the proposed plastics ban, the council gave direction Tuesday to include polystyrene packing materials, produce trays and egg cartons.

The council held off for now in addressing raw food trays after a representative from the California Grocers Association objected. They instead asked city staff to come back to council with an analysis on addressing raw food trays along with plastic lids and bottles and mylar balloons.

“When we talk about food packaging which is much different than bags, food safety has the highest priority,” said Tim James, the group’s government relations manager. “Second to that is keeping the quality of that food good for the customer.”

Craig Cadwallader with Surfrider Foundation argued that placing raw meat on polystyrene, a suspected carcinogen, was far more dangerous than any alternative, not to mention the way polystyrene breaks up into tiny pieces.

“The difference between an expanded polystyrene and an alternative is I can generally pick that up in one piece on the beach,” Cadwallader said. “Polystyrene breaks up and blows around.”

Although alternatives for the raw food trays are available at stores such as Whole Foods, Manhattan Beach environmental programs manager Dana Murray said she was fine with leaving that portion of the regulation off the table.

Murray said community groups and residents want to be leaders in environmental sustainability and want to protect the oceans. Most of the ocean plastics arrive at the beach through storm drains, she explained.

“Over 60 percent of sea birds and 100 percent of turtles have ingested plastic,” Murray said. “By 2050 there will be more plastic in ocean than fish by weight.”

Starting in January, restaurants in Manhattan Beach must find alternative products such as paper or reusable glass straws and non-plastic utensils for to-go orders offered on request. While the items are more expensive, those restaurants that have already made the switch, report that customers are requesting them less often.

So often, restaurants just place straws and plastic utensils in to-go orders automatically. Those unused utensils and straws are some of the greatest sources of plastic waste in the ocean, Murray said.

In supporting the plastics ban, Councilmember Steve Napolitano questioned why the city was not tackling other more prominent forms of plastic waste such as caps, lids and bottles.

“There is often this race to be the greenest,” Napolitano said. “We want to get there along with our colleagues, but we want to take it in proper steps and give people their fair hearing.”

Murray said the city chose those plastic items offered at bars and restaurants because those are behaviors they can affect.

“There are some things we can control the flow of in our city,” Murray said. “There are other things that are harder to do. We are trying to address those things the city can influence.”

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